Getting started is the hardest part. In episode 279, I received a question from a listener who felt unworthy of help, not knowing how they could ask for help. In this post, I dive into the foundations of these negative thought patterns and offer my thoughts on how you can begin to believe in yourself and take the first steps to a more positive life.
Dear Dr. Duff,
I struggle. I never feel worthy. I am intimidated by most every situation because I don’t believe I deserve anything. Example, I am currently experiencing issues with my heart and blood pressure. I can’t bring myself to get treatment. I am overweight and have not paid attention to my health so I am pretty much reaping what I’ve sown. How can I now turnaround and ask for help? Not to mention that I feel like I will be ridiculed for having let myself get to this point. It’s overwhelming and the anxiety makes it all the more difficult to do anything. I need help.
Thank you for writing in. I feel for you so much hearing about the position that you are in. I think it’s super common to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of your issues when they have built up for a while. There’s an interesting phenomenon that goes unaddressed and becomes harder to address simply by virtue of it being unaddressed. It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about. It’s like a piece of mail that you procrastinated opening and now because you’ve put it off, it becomes scarier and even harder to open it. Then all that procrastination turned a small issue into one that is legitimately big now and it feels insurmountable because of all the build-up. So I think that is probably a piece of the puzzle here along with the self-concept issues that you mentioned.
Interestingly, they can go hand in hand. In some ways, you might be taking your own treatment of yourself as evidence that you are unworthy. You start from a baseline of not feeling awesome about yourself and then that causes you to treat yourself poorly, which your mind sees as proof that you weren’t worth it in the first place. It becomes kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. All of this is to say that I sympathize with your experience and I’m sorry that things have built to this point for you. I’m super proud of you for writing in because this is one step toward doing something about it. That’s awesome.
So. What can we do here?
For the medical health side, there are a few things that may be helpful to keep in mind. Think about anyone in the world you have encountered or seen (even on TV) that made significant changes to their health. Those issues rarely popped up overnight. Those health issues mounted and remained issues until they took action against them. So each one of those people were in your shoes before they began to take action. They were stuck until they become unstuck. I know it sounds dumb, but it is possible to become unstuck.
I’m going to operate under the assumption that you aren’t 97 years old. If that’s the case, then you aren’t out of time to make changes. It sounds like there may be some depressive elements of your experience and that depression is trying to convince you that there is no chance of getting better, that trying at this point would be hopeless, that you are out of time, and that you wasted your opportunity to build healthier habits. Those are all lies. Think about this in terms of somebody else. If you were being paid to coach someone else in a very similar situation to yours and you could essentially control their activities. Would you be able to make a significant difference in their health within a year? You bet your ass you could! Now, obviously it’s not that easy when it comes to yourself, but this illustrates the point that deep down you do understand that you have some degree of control here and that you can make real differences for yourself. You are not stuck and you are not hopeless.
Start the process
One of the problems, when problems get built up, is knowing where to begin. It all feels so big and unmanageable, and since you can’t figure out how to solve the whole problem, you get paralyzed and don’t do anything. Right now, you don’t need to find a perfect solution, you just need to start somewhere. If you are getting in your head about any particular choice not being “enough”, remind yourself that the alternative is doing nothing. Doing anything will be better than that. Maybe the first step is scheduling a doctor’s appointment to see what their perspective is. Maybe your first step is to sign up for a health coaching program or see a nutritionist. Maybe your first step is to talk with loved ones about the situation and see their perspective on it.
The first step is just that – a first step. I think that many of us fall into the trap of feeling like we need to solve the whole problem at once. That’s not the case. I’ve been working with a lot of people on this lately. About the value of initiating something and then letting it take its course without trying to dictate the entire process from the start. For instance, if you have a difficult conversation ahead of you with a family member or a partner, you don’t have to know how it’s going to happen. You just need to start the process. We can always course correct or adjust as necessary. Sometimes your first step isn’t what you need, but it helps you realize what you DO need. So you just need to get started. That getting started part can be tough as you mentioned.
Action vs. Inaction
One thing you may consider is the consequences of your action and inaction. Let’s start with the action part. What do you serve to gain by taking action? If you were able to set aside the mental roadblocks and do the things that you think would be beneficial, what would you gain? This could be physical, emotional, or even circumstantial. For one therapy patient that I work with, it’s helpful for us to think about how their decisions relate to their potential for independence and living the life they want to have. You can also think about how other people would be impacted by your decision to take action. Not just for yourself, but how would others benefit from you making some changes. This is very personal, so it’s hard for me to make guesses here, but as one potential example, you might imagine that you were able to work on your physical health by taking some specific steps. This leads you to feel somewhat more confident and have more energy to put toward things you care about. This might allow you to be a more consistent and thoughtful friend by showing up more in person for those you care about. In other circumstances, people might think about how it impacts their children in the long run and how they can possibly be there for them more.
On the flip side of this, you may want to think about the consequences of inaction. What happens if this trajectory continues indefinitely. Because it will continue indefinitely until something intervenes and forces it to change course. I don’t need to flesh this one out for you, but it will be important for you to do that for yourself. What happens if this does not change. Again both for you as an individual and for others you care about. This may also lead you to examine your values a bit. What do you value as an individual? That can be helping others, independence, freedom, exploration, connection, authenticity… whatever. Connect to those values and think about how taking action might help you get closer and live out those values.
Moving forward…Sometimes tricks are called for!
These motivators may take some time to really connect to. This can be done in a variety of ways. Journaling, having conversations with people, or simply spending more time spacing out and thinking about it in the shower. Aside from connecting to these motivators, you may also need to exploit your own tendencies a bit and kind of trick yourself into action. It can be SO hard to get the ball rolling. Sometimes tricks are called for. A big one for some people is accountability. Making a commitment to someone else and not wanting to let them down. Removing avoidance options is another one. When you put off action what else are you doing? Removing some of those avoidance options can make it more difficult for you to run away from the necessary action staring you in the face. I would consider all of these things to be working on the issue from the front end. Taking action and proving to yourself that you are worthy of treating yourself well can help your emotions catch up. Eventually, your emotions will see all that action and start to conclude that you must be worth more than you thought. There are many instances where it makes more sense to DO something rather than waiting for the feeling to change first.
Now, you can also work on the backend as well. One of the best ways of doing this would be to get yourself into therapy. A good therapist could really help you with your situation. To help you recognize your worth. To show you that it’s worth it to care for yourself better. To address underlying beliefs about yourself that led to this negative self-concept that you have. I’m not even going to encourage you to do the self-help route. I think you should get into some therapy. It will also serve as one of those sources of accountability. Since you presumably would see them regularly, you will have a point of contact to continue following up on these topics. I strongly suspect that there will be some deeper layers to peel back once you start getting into it and that will be really valuable too. Self-forgiveness will be a part of that. It’s okay that you are where you are. It’s also okay that you want to change.
So, I hope that gives you a starting point. I wanted to normalize your experience because you certainly aren’t alone in it. I also wanted to give you some ideas about how to take some of those first steps. I believe in you!
You can listen to this on Episode 279 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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